printmaking theory

Thought-Experiment or ‘lumps of it round the back’

A couple of months ago I wrote a brief outline for a book called ‘Thought-Experiment’:

Thought-Experiment is a series of approaches to the theory of printmaking. It is not a book about techniques or how to make prints but an exploration of ideas and how an artist intensely engages with materials to create objects and artefacts.

Walter Benjamin investigated how value is affected by mass-production and re-production. Hand-made prints are in-between and embody tensions that unique works of art cannot.

1. ‘Lumps of it round the back’ – multiplicity and potential

2. Value

3. Printmaking as ritual

4. Variations

5. Ephemera

6. Time

First I want to talk about the pleasure of printmaking.

Running the print studio has made me begin to understand how people want to create/carve out a space for themselves that is personalised and full of joy. Printmaking is an activity that is hard, requires a lot of equipment and forward planning, learning and reflection. Yet people keep coming back.

Printmaking for me is about making the best use of a series of materials that are finite, but multiple. I am excited by the fact that from some card, a roll of self-adhesive vinyl, glue and other seemingly random things I can make a collagraph plate, and then I can create multiple impressions from it. I can play with being nonchalant but at the same time precious, giving some aspects of the print more or less focus as I create it. Whether it is a representation of something or not is beside the point.

I spoke recently to someone about the ‘Christmas present moment’ when the printmaker pulls back the paper and sees the print. Sometimes there is complete delight on people’s faces, and at other times they have to really look at it and work out what they need to change. I have always made sure that people who come to the studio are the first to see their print as it comes off the press. They do the reveal and I watch them.

I suppose ‘Lumps of it round the back’ elides into this idea of pleasure for me that is very personal. I can run the risk of messing up and being able to do it again. And again, if necessary. It’s an insurance policy, a safety net and it promises an even closer approximation to the realisation of my mental image of what I would like to achieve. I will never get there, but I can continue working towards it until I get it right.

But it’s also to do with integers. I can push these lumps of things around in my head until I can configure them into something that is satisfying to me both conceptually and as a physical object. I don’t know how many I will need, so I prefer to have lots. It’s not a choreographed dance with me, more like a continual process of improvisation and reflection.

I think through printmaking. I create prints that are objects to think with and I find pleasure in sharing them with people who use them as such. Which will lead me onto 2. Value, which I have yet to write, but will involve looking at Fluxus, exchange and subversion.